Posts Tagged ‘Fuji Cameras’

Starting at the end

In fotocare, India, Kolkata, Portraits on December 26, 2014 at 3:41 am

It’s December 26th, 2014 at 11:54 am. I’m sitting in the hotel in Goa, India. I’m listing to Alt-J (really been enjoying this band) I’ve been in India for close to 5 weeks. The shooting is done now. It had been my hope to update this blog during my time here but of course you know the saying about “best laid plans” So with limited internet access I was only occasionally able to sign on and grab some email, upload some Instagram photos. I’m here thanks to the support of the 96 amazing people that contributed to my Indiegogo campaign.

The goal was to to show how the migrant sugarcane worker is commoditized and marginalized while the factory owners, farmers and factory workers thrive. There is no doubt that I was able to show that. However I was presented with another side that I had not considered. This other side gave me pause because more so then ever before I realized I had the power to edit this story in a way that could affect how it’s viewed. On one hand I could show how these migrant workers really have it bad. The challenge for me is that I can also and quite easily show how they are doing very well. Especially compared to other people in the towns and villages that they come from. Places like Beed, India.

So what is the right thing to do? The more I looked into this the more I was left to draw my own conclusions about what is going on here and then dare I say how it should be? I am well aware of how people from the west come into some place with all the answers. Basing issues and problems on how we see it. Giving little to no thought as to how the people in question would actually thrive or at the very least could have their lives improved. I have seen firsthand how the gov’t in Australia stepped into Elcho Island and changed the lives of it’s inhabitants for the worse based on what it thought was best without really taking into consideration what the Aboriginals of the island would want.

So that being said I’m not going to say what I think is best for these people. I don’t know what the right answer is. My photos that will be coming soon to a website will hopefully show the good, the bad and ugly but most important I hope they show the truth. I will add words where I think it will help give clarity.

I think the key thing here is not to compare ones self with another. Be that with wealth, status or power. All we can do is take our own situations and try to improve upon them. There is no doubt that in the sugarcane industry of India, that is exactly what is happening. One viewing the images from the outside could easily say that some individuals are not getting a fair shake while others are profiting disproportionally and that would totally be true. However, by looking deeper one (me) could see that thanks to the opportunities provided by the sugarcane industry there are groups of people (families) that are able to make a living where once there was none. Many are thriving while some will never fully exploit the opportunity they are getting.

The industry is essentially made up of a many working parts. At the top you have the factory, they process the raw sugarcane and within a number of hours turns it into sugar as we know it. There is the farmer, who owns the land and grows the cane. These individuals are generally considered wealthy especially by the local standards. Often the land has been passed down through generations. There are migrant workers who come and harvest the cane from the farmers field. They transport the cane to the factory on wagons connected to Ox carts or larger tractors. Then there are the middle men (Pimps) these people are responsible for finding the migrant workers (called gangs) and sorting out the working arrangements. They are paid by the factory to find the gangs. Then they pay the gangs while skimming a % off the top. They also get paid for finding the gangs in the first place. So essentially they are getting paid from both sides.

1) Factories

2) Farmers (own the land to grow the sugarcane)

3) Migrant farmers (harvest the cane and deliver to the factory)

4) Middle men (arrange for the migrant farmers to come to the farms to harvest the cane)

That is the basic way things play out here. This blog is not designed to go into extreme detail about how it all goes down as that is what the website will show. With this blog I will be showing some images and basically giving my free flowing run at the mouth take on my trip. However, I wanted to lay it out here so you understand the basic how’s and why’s of the people I talk about.

I did a lot of traveling on this project. I started in Mumbai and then went to Bagalkort then drove to Mudhol and spent some time in Bijapur, Bangalore. All of these towns are in the Karnataka province.

I want to make something very clear.  I would not be here if not for the support of the Indiegogo contributors but once I made it to India there is one person who’s help was simply so far over and above what anyone could expect. Without her help I would not have had access to a Sugarcane factory, an interpreter, hotels, drivers and food. So essentially everything. Sunitha Jagannath has been like a mother for me here even though we are essentially the same age. I’m so indebted to her it’s not even funny. Sunitha works for KHPT and I met her two years ago when I was shooting for UN Women. Check out KHPT and see what amazing work they do. The other person I wanted to thank was a man called Panduranga Biradar (Pandu) he is the Head Of R&D at Nandi Sugarcane Factory. This man gave me unprecedented access to the factory and as a result to the migrant workers. He actually gave me a motorcycle to ride around and use to meet workers and even tour the inner workings of the factory. He also allowed me to stay at the guest house for free for over a week. They fed me the most authentic south Indian food and even allowed me to try to make chapati (I failed miserably). When I needed to come back for another day a week later he was more than open to helping me and even said I could stay for a few extra days. Again no doubt I would not have been able to accomplish this story without him. He took the time to show me how they are working on a better irrigation system to create a larger yield of cane that would in turn mean more money for the farmers and the migrant workers who harvest the cane. It was with him that I had to reassess my idea of what was going on at the factory. Not to imply it’s all golden but it was certainly worth more consideration on my part.

I also want to take a moment to thank the amazing sponsors (in no particular order) who helped me with gear for this project. Without them I would not have been able afford to do this story. Their gear is amazing and their help is even more. Supporting photographers to help tell stories that can affect change should not be ignored!!

Fotocare NYC If you need to buy or rent gear, you can’t go wrong!! The unending support from Linda, Fred and Jeff. I’m more grateful than you will ever know!

Manfrotto USA Thanks to Shanna for an amazing carbon tripod and head as well as a Metz flash.

XP Photo Gear Thanks to Xavier for the beautiful small soft boxes that create amazing quality of light from an on camera flash.

Tamrac camera bags Thanks to Spencer, my back thanks you for providing me with an amazing backpack/wheelie bag. It held more than I could carry!

Joby Thanks to Zach for the amazing little gorilla tripod and funky ways to connect my GoPro to just about anything.

Lexar Thanks for the memories!! I wish I could put one of your cards in my brain.

Peak design Thanks to Adam! I honestly was not sure how I would use this product but then I started and could not believe how helpful and cool it was!

Zacuto Thank you Rachel: Made my video taking so much easier. If you are serious about shooting motion with a DSLR then you don’t want to be without some of their products.

Blundstone Boots Okay they don’t sponsor me in anyway shape or form (I have never asked) but these are the best boots and really only boots I wear pretty much all day everyday. With them on I feel like I can walk on or through just about anything and now I need to get a new pair because they are worn out but worn out with love!

Okay, I think that’s a good background to this project.


P.S. Oh you wanted to see some pictures? okay here are a few 🙂 SO much more to come.

This is where it all begins.

This is where it all begins.

This is a farmer. He owns the land that the cane grows on.

This is a farmer. He owns the land that the cane grows on.

Migrant sugarcane worker.

Migrant sugarcane worker.

There is no age discrimination for migrant workers.

There is no age discrimination for migrant workers.

A few tons of cane ready to go to the factory for processing.

A few tons of cane ready to go to the factory for processing.

Tons of cane is dumped on to conveyor belts that run 24hrs a day.

Tons of cane is dumped on to conveyor belts that run 24hrs a day.

Factory workers at the Nandi Sugarcane factory.

Factory workers at the Nandi Sugarcane factory.

Sugar, that's what this is all about.

Sugar, that’s what this is all about.

Sugar into the bags

Sugar into the bags

Me going to work. Didn't want you to think I was calling it in. Go Leafs!

Me going to work. Didn’t want you to think I was calling it in. Go Leafs! (Rope on bag is to secure it to motorcycle).

It’s still Dec 26th/2014 but now it’s 2:01 pm


Layover in Kolkata

In Documentary work, India, Kolkata, Sex Workers, Tamracphoto, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on January 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Bangalore and the sex workers or Devadasi are now behind me as I board another early morning flight. My destination is Ranchi but for whatever reason I will be stopping in Kolkata for a full 9-10 hours. At first this sounds great to me but I’m also aware that I’ve been running pretty lean for the last week and getting a bit tired. It’s become more and more difficult to find a place and enough time to catch up on my now seriously depleted sleep. I’m determined to check out Kolkata though and hope to get to the Ganga (Ganges) river. I’ve never been the type of person that likes to read too much about a place or to make too many plans before I arrive. I like to go where my nose takes me. I want to be off the beaten path so with that in mind I sometimes find myself unprepared for what is in front of me. Don’t get me wrong as I like this challenge but it often ends up to be a very big challenge. Note to potential traveling companions, you had better be okay with this or there could be some uncomfortable moments. Anyway I arrive early in the am and proceed to leave the airport and find a day taxi through a service in the arrivals terminal to give me a tour of the city. I meet a nice young man who in his best stuttering English between puffs of his every present smokes claims he understands what I want and will give me a great tour of this city. I tell him what I want is to see the underbelly of the city. I’m not interested in houses of worship or anything where there may be a tourist. No problem he tells me and starts to point out all the tourist spots he can find. Once again I tell him that’s not what I want. Finally after some time he gets it and says he is going to take me to Sonagachi this is essentially the red light district of Kulkuta.

Before all that sex worker stuff, we were going to need to get some food. He takes me to this little place in the center of the city where I’m sure he takes all his fares. He knows the guys by name in the place and quickly orders what surely is his regular meal. I order some vegetarian dish and when it comes I devour it like all the food I’ve had so far and barely take the time to savor the spices that I love so much since my interest is to see what’s  going on outside. After I pay for both of us (is that the way it’s supposed to go?) I get up and wander out the door and behind some stalls to what appears to be a little town hidden behind a bigger city. Little sidewalks zig zagging back and forth like a decrepit Venice Italy. This is where poverty pervades, too poor to beg. Still smiles abound with the children. There were people playing some hand cross version of pool and checkers with an odd number of pieces and other people just making do with the day. There was a small family sitting around a chopping block with the remains of some animal. There was a jaw and a hoof and more fly’s then you would ever want to be around.

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Once back on the road and on to Sonagachi I was given some strict orders from my driver not to talk to anyone and by NO means am I to have my camera with me. I say listen here bub, this is what I do for a livin and I’ll be fine. He is really adamant that it’s terribly dangerous for me to be walking around with a camera and as much as I’d like to be a tough guy he simply will not allow it. Normally since I pay for insurance I’m not too worried about losing my gear but in this case since I had a few more shoots to do I simply could not afford to lose any of it. I decided to take the gear with me vs. leaving it in the car as he suggested.

We begin to walk in the Sonagachi area and at first it seems ordinary enough but very soon it becomes clear that there are a disproportionate number of young girls here. They tend to hang out in little groups of 4-5 and they are very nice to me. Gosh I think isn’t that nice. Who doesn’t want a little attention? Of course it’s not like that at all. These are all prostitutes and they are so young! Seems like many of them are late teens or early twenties. No doubt there are some older ones but the older ones don’t seem to be as out there as the young ones. Granted this was still early morning so I suppose they could have been sleeping from the night before. There was more than one occasion when my driver took me by the hand to guide me.  It’s very common for two men to walk hand in hand but it tends to make me a bit uncomfortable plus I feel i’m a big boy and don’t need my hand held but I certainly appreciate the concern he had for me.

Incredible poverty is what you see in this area but at the same time I don’t see sad faces. I’m not saying these people were happy with their lives only that where I was at that point in time the people I came across showed no obvious sign of stress. I have no doubt that looking a bit closer would reveal myriad of troubles. Like most places people leave their problems at home and then go to work even if their work is prostitution. There were kids playing in the street and both young and old men and women washing in the little corner water pipes.  I do wish I had the camera but I think that without a pre arranged meeting with some people my shots would probably not have been too interesting. Anyway how many shots of sex workers do you really want to see on one trip.

Next it was off to the Ganga. I just assumed this was a place that anyone who you would ask in this country never mind the city would know about it. Funny thing was that it was not as easy to find. We actually had to ask about 5-7 different people on the street to get directions to this magical place. We navigated our way through the crowds of cars and people until we crossed some train tracks and arrived at the edge of this river. These places always seem more romantic in your mind then when you are actually faced with them. It was somewhat hidden behind a row of buildings that lined the edge. As I walked through a break in the buildings my driver decided to hang out with some guys. I do find it amazing that in a city of millions a person can sit down beside what I only can imagine are total strangers and start talking as if family. Meanwhile I walked down some stairs that led right to the waters edge. There were young people washing and children playing. There was a man missing a leg from what I imagine to be polio. He with his crutch and a what I suppose was his girlfriend. They laughed and splashed each other with water. Children running naked as they always seem to do smiling and posing for the camera. I have often photographed two children together with the youngest one happy and giddy to be in the photo while the older one even though also happy to pose there was a small indication that the innocence was beginning to fade,  almost ready to say no photos but not quite independent enough to do so.

As I started to leave I went past one of the areas where they cremate bodies. There are many little concrete divots to build a fire in and then place the body on. There are what amounts to bleachers for people to sit and watch as the body burns. I saw a flame but it had been burning for some time and there was no obvious sign that a life had ever been.

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Once we left the river it was basically a bee line back to the airport. Rush hour if that’s even possible since it seems to always be rush hour would begin soon and my flight was at 7pm. We made it back much faster than it seemed it took to get from the airport to the city and I will say it’s not that close. My driver asked that I tell the service who I reserved him with to say he did a great job and that I would be back later in the week. I guess this helps him, I’m a little embarrassed to say I did not actually do this as I was not heading in the direction of the arrivals terminal where I had originally reserved the car in the first place. Oh well I’m sure he will do fine.

Now onward to Ranchi and meeting the group that works with the Adivasi or indigenous peoples of India.